AHS site unites decades of Bulldogs

alhambraalumni.org creators plan to use
membership income to expand site offerings

January 16, 2011

By Greta Mart
Staff Reporter

There’s something about Alhambra High School that engenders close-knit ties among its alumni and class reunions tend to be well attended. A significant percentage of each class wind up staying rooted in the area, in near proximity to their schooldays chums.

Now one former AHS student, David A. Rich, is hoping that long-term and enduring camaraderie and school spirit will translate into memberships for the website he and his wife Karen have established specifically for Alhambra alumni and current students, called appropriately enough, alhambraalumni.org.

The couple, who live in Pollack Pines in the Sierra foothills, started the site as an offshoot to alhambra73.org, which David created to organize his 30-year class reunion for 1973 graduates. 

“I contacted a lot of classmates and kept the class informed vis-à-vis the reunion. What we found, as with any website, is that if you don’t keep it current it dies quickly. When the reunion was over, we started looking for things to put up to keep the site going,” David Rich said this week. He and Karen were in town to present the Martinez Unified School District a check – they have pledged to return ten percent of their membership income back to the District. “We got so many other classes interested in what we were doing.”

Since the couple operate a website design and hosting company, they decided to buy the “alhambraalumni” domain name and expand the site to include class reunion information for all years, and add a history section, since they had already gathered a large cache from microfiche records at the Pleasant Hill Library.

“First we expanded to all four years [of David’s AHS attendance] and said, then what?” said Karen. “We decided we would include the entire time line, from the first year, 1901.”

Their site caught the interest of the high school, and the former head librarian Patricia Bolds offered to loan the Riches all the editions of the school’s yearbook, The Torch, that she had in her possession. Other graduates loaned theirs, and soon the Riches had 84 yearbooks on hand.

Spending hours and days on end at the scanner, the Riches completed the monumental task of translating the paperbound albums into downloadable PDF files. With the help of their daughter Tiffany and the investment of a second scanner, it took the three-member team three months to complete the uploading process.

Now upon signing up for the $20 annual membership fee, visitors to the site can browse yearbooks going all the way back to 1909.

Not even classmates.com has that capability, and nowhere else on the Internet can one access the Torches from years past.

“As each year comes to a close another volume of memories comes off the presses and each previous year moves farther into the historical past. Each volume is a time capsule for the people who witnessed the moments and memories of the previous academic year. Creating digital copies of each Torch will preserve them for the future and collect them in one location,” the Riches wrote on the Torches page of the site.

The most recent yearbooks won’t be fully uploaded until all students have reached the age of 18.

“We are very conscious of protecting the youth,” said David Rich.

There are some missing years for which Librarian Bolds had no copy, such as 1910 -1912; 1915; 1918; 1921-1925 and 1927. The Riches encourage anyone with a copy of those missing years to contact them via the site.

“After a while, we found it was becoming expensive to do all the research, come to Contra Costa to find items on microfiche and paying for the hosting and design work – it wasn’t feeding the bulldog,” punned David, explaining why the Riches opted to switch from a wholly-free site to one that has password protected and membership-based sections. “We also wanted to give back to the kids today, so we decided to charge a fee for access so we could track who was visiting and update them with relevant information, help pay for the research so we could expand, and give back a portion of each membership we sell.”

In the year it has been up and running, the site has attracted 25 members; the Riches hope they will sell more as word about the site’s existence circulates.

Another remarkable feature of the site is the section entitled “Slide Shows,” which includes a 16mm film clip, shot sometime in the 1950s, depicting Main Street during a massive flood and another clip of when city workers moved the Southern Pacific Engine 1258 – which now sits at the entrance of Waterfront Park – “as captured on 8 mm film at the corner of Escobar and Talbart Streets, film shot by W. Joe Rich [David’s father]. Imagine having this go by your window!”

The extensive digging done by the Riches is evident by the scores of uploaded articles on all things Alhambra and Martinez. For example, in the section Early Education, they included the minutes from the July 31, 1901 Alhambra Union High School board meeting.

“The representatives elected in and for the Union High School including within its boundaries the Martinez, Alhambra, Vine Hill, Franklin and Briones Valley school districts appear in this Court Room of the Court House in the town of Martinez, Contra Costa, State of California on this 31st day of July 1901 and take and subscribe to oath of office as such representatives,” the minutes read. “Thereupon motion of Representative G. M. Frazer duly seconded, and carried Representative John Swett is declared the duly elected Chairman and J. E. Rodgers the duly elected Secretary of this meeting.

After the charter approval the Board returned to work appointing Mary Kelly and L. E. Rodgers to secure rooms and furnishings for the new high school. Purchased were thirty school desks, two recreation benches, one teacher’s desk and chair, one dictionary plus a stand and other furniture and apparatus.

The Board set the following course of study for graduation: first year – Latin, English, algebra, physical geography and physiology; second year – Latin, English, geometry, and ancient history; third year – Latin, English, geometry, medieval and modern history; fourth year – Latin, English, physics, American history and civics …Teacher’s salaries were set at $125.00 per month for a ten month term.”

Several of the historical items on the site come from the pages of the Martinez News-Gazette or its former monikers, the Morning News-Gazette and the Contra Costa Gazette.

A clip from 1963 recaps a school board meeting at which “Architect Donald Haines told Martinez Elementary District trustees last night that he will submit completed plans and specifications for additions to the John Swett Elementary School in Alhambra Valley to them Feb. 19 for approval.  After board approval, the plans will be forwarded to the State Division of Architecture … In another matter, the elementary and Alhambra High School District boards instructed personnel to provide information to the Board of Education of the new Martinez Unified School District in preparation for actual start of the unified district July 1.”

“All the research we did was shouldered as a labor of love, and at first the site was entirely free,” said David Rich this week. “We felt bad to start charging for a password but it was the only way to grow the site.”

Karen added that they hope the site will enable other classes to organize reunions via the site. 

“We’re trying to get the word out,” said the Riches.

For more information on the site, visit www.alhambraalumni.org. The site also has a Facebook presence at Alhambra Alumni Martinez, CA.